Many college kids can hardly write a proper English sentence, never mind a proper essay. Meanwhile, the essay-writing industry is huge, churning out tens of thousands of illegal documents. Naturally, all participants in the scam pretend there's no scam, and so the scam can go on.
Here's a recent, terrifying report from an editor:
My organization decided a few weeks back that we needed to hire a new professional staff person. We had close to 500 applicants. Inasmuch as the task was to help us communicate information related to the work we do, we gave each of the candidates one of the reports we published last year and asked them to produce a one-page summary. All were college graduates. Only one could produce a satisfactory summary. That person got the job.
Here is a good indication of how bad things already were 40 years ago. One investigator concluded:
If you think America's English teachers have gone "back to basics" and are solving the literacy problem everyone began shouting about in the 1970s, think again. Recent studies show that English teachers know little about the language they're supposed to teach. They get poor training in writing at college and, as a group, are bad writers.
I am about a decade into my teaching career, but even within this fairly short span, I have noticed a startling decline in the quality of written work turned in by my students, regardless of which institution (community college, private, four year school) the papers are coming from.
So what's going on?
Even though half the incoming students are completely incompetent at the sentence level, colleges pretend it's not so. In this piece that explains why so many young Americans can't write well, Natalie Wexler states, "Colleges simply assume students already know how to write sentences." Course syllabi and textbooks all peddle the fiction that students can produce grammatical sentences at will, without crude errors like fragments, run-ons, or subject-verb disagreements. That's grotesquely untrue.
In her report, Wexler provides a weighty insight: "With the advent of e-mail, writing ability has become more important than ever, and writing deficiencies have become increasingly apparent."
It's not hyperbole to point out that the country's language skills have gotten rotten. PBS concluded:
The vast majority of public two- and four-year colleges report enrolling students – more than half a million of them–who are not ready for college-level work, a Hechinger Report investigation of 44 states has found. The numbers reveal a glaring gap in the nation's education system: A high school diploma, no matter how recently earned, doesn't guarantee that students are prepared for college courses. Higher education institutions across the country are forced to spend time, money and energy to solve this disconnect. They must determine who's not ready for college and attempt to get those students up to speed as quickly as possible, or risk losing them altogether.
Meanwhile, there is massive fraud top to bottom. The kids cheat (i.e., plagiarize) by buying essays. There seem to be hundreds of these businesses, some of them claiming to have hundreds of professional writers. Meanwhile, the college (or the individual teachers) could easily determine when students are handing in material above their abilities. The colleges don't try very hard.
If commonsense safeguards were enforced, the pool of applicants ready for college might shrink tremendously. The money would stop flowing. Some professors would no longer have careers. A lot of colleges could become ghost towns.
The sad tendency started 75 years ago, when the Education Establishment piously announced a number of stupidities: grammar isn't important, and students shouldn't worry about correct spelling. I can remember reading an article in Time 40 years ago where two professors said children would pick up language rules from their environment. Even young and dumb as I was at that moment, I sensed that these two guys were jive-ass turkeys.
Now we're probably at the point where lots of kids pay to have their admission essays written. Maybe they paid for papers in high school. And then they pay right through their college years. This might add thousands of dollars to the cost of higher education. But that's not so consequential if you're already paying $30,000 to $40,000 each year.
If you want to see some serious sophistry unfolding in front of your eyes, watch this Huffington Post liberal (one must assume) try to keep the house of cards standing:
Since academic writing is becoming one of the most prominent aspects of the educational system, the constant development of the custom-writing industry is clearly justified. ... [S]ome argue ... that the content completed by professional writers is not plagiarized. It is completely unique, well-researched and properly-referenced. When a customer buys this type of product, he has the right to use it as a source for another paper, or simply submit it as his own.
Intellectually speaking, that's Sodom and Gomorrah.
David Coleman is famous for trying to force Common Core on the public. And Common Core is famous for not teaching kids to write. According to the Washington Post, "the authors of the Common Core focused just on the skills that students should have at each grade level, not on how to impart them. And few teachers have been trained to teach these writing skills, apparently because educators believe that students will just pick them up through reading. Obviously, most don't."
Coleman, having done his dirty work for Common Core, bounced over to take control of The College Board. His first action was to sandbag "the essay requirement," the one part that might reveal how shabby things have become. In other words, he's covering up his own tracks.
The main point here is that all sectors of the Education Establishment are conspiring to sabotage reading and writing skills at all levels, while at the same time conspiring to cover up the consequences of this sabotage.
Students don't learn essential skills, and then the testing of those skills is compromised or hidden. What better way to hide poor writing skills than to allow a whole new industry to evolve, so students can hire mercenaries to do their work? Isn't that clever? Crime-wise, it's a double-helix, so slick, so sick, that even people who think they are not concerned about education might want to protest.
The starting point for all of these developments is the poor instruction of reading in the early grades. Millions of children reach middle school with only limited literacy. Naturally, their writing skills are even lower than that. Children need to be good fluent readers, then they acquire a good vocabulary, then they can move to writing an essay. If reading isn't taught properly, writing will be an impossible dream.
Bruce Deitrick Price explains education theories and methods on his site Improve-Education.org. His next book is Saving K-12, "a citizen's guide to improving public education," due Nov. 17.